Last weekend I wasn’t watching any inauguration. I couldn’t have done so no matter who was being officially named the next president of the USA because I was too busy watching and showing people birds while guiding in the San Vito area. Whether you happen to be in Costa Rica during an inauguration, moon landing, or alien arrival, don’t worry about any news, you will see that stuff soon enough. What you won’t see at other times are the hundreds of birds that live in the vicinity of that nice little highland town in southern Costa Rica.
San Vito is so far off from the San Jose area, we kind of felt like we were in another country. Being so close to the border with Panama, we almost were and for us local birders, that makes for some exciting avian stuff. We don’t get as many chances at new species as Canadian and USA birders do in southern Texas or Arizona, but it’s exciting nonetheless. We need to go there to have a chance at the plain looking yet weird Ruddy Foliage-gleaner, the smart-looking yet shy Lance-tailed Manakin, and the incorrectly named Masked Yellowthroat (see why it needs another name below).
The beautiful Speckled Tanager is another, much more common species of the area.
Not to mention, there’s tons of other interesting birds in the area, the birding is easy like Sunday morning, there are a few other fantastic sites within reach, plenty of places to explore and maybe even find something new for the boundaries of Costa Rica, and you might even get a chance to go birding with the awesome San Vito Birding Club! I could go on and on about how wonderful those four days were but I’ll try to keep it brief with these suggestions:
Getting there- Which route to take?: There are two ways to go and I did both in the same trip. On the way there, Sara Clarke (of the Finca Dos Lados Reforestation Project) and I drove the coastal route to Ciudad Neily and then up the very curvy road to San Vito. This gave us a chance to look for birds en route at Tarcoles, Parrita, and a few other sites. The route is fairly quick and easy but that last curvy bit is indeed pretty curvy. To avoid the curviness, you can also take the coastal route to the turn off at Palmar and go from there.
On the way back, we took the other main route. This one is more direct but goes up and over Cerro de la Muerte and through San Isidro. Take this to look for high elevation species but be ready to sit behind slow moving trucks. You can also do this one to stop overnight in Buenos Aires and bird the Salitre savannas the next morning (to see the targets, you do need to do those early in the morning).
Join the San Vito Birding Club for a walk: We would have done this but with our logistics, it just didn’t work out. Nevertheless, we did meet up with them one evening and went birding with their president, Greg Homer. This was awesome, if you get the chance to go one of their bird walks, do it! Check their site for information about that.
Where to stay: While some birders lodge at Las Cruces, know that you don’t have to. It’s not that it’s a bad choice, just that there are other options in the area including two fantastic ones that treated us very well. These are the Casa Botania, and the Cascata del Bosco. Both have nice rooms, good views, great service, wonderful food (gourmet vegetarian at Botania!), and good birding right on the grounds. They are also within walking distance of Wilson Botanical Garden (aka Las Cruces). Both are seriously recommended.
The view from my window at Botania.
Cascata del Bosco
You might also get pictures of Green Honeycreeper.
Wilson Botanical Garden: Speaking of that place, it’s included on most birding tours to Costa Rica and with good reason. The facilities are impressive, the trails are maintained, there are lots of eBird reports, and the birding is nice and easy. Even better, you can also go in early most days and pay after peering on the trails for tinamous and wood-quail.
Check the San Joaquin marsh: This is a small yet important wetland near the airport. Yes, there is an airport although no planes fly there. At least I don’t think they do because the runway is used by cyclists, runners, and anyone else who feels like hanging out on a landing strip. As for the marsh, coming from San Vito, take the road towards Sabalito, go just past the airport, and watch for the sign on the left. Take a left at that point, drive in to the top of a short hill, and park. Ask at the house pictured below to use the trails, give the guy 500 colones or so and go on in. Since this guy basically lets people in to the marsh, he should get a birder friend award. He likes watching the birds too.
Although there’s not much access to view it, the marsh is still the best place to connect with the local variety of Masked Yellowthroat, and you will probably see some other stuff. Regarding the yellowthroat, you do want to see it because it isn’t really a Masked Yellowthroat. At least, that’s what DNA studies have shown. Those indicated that it is more closely related to Olive-crowned Yellowthroat than Masked which almost certainly makes it it’s own, valid species with a tiny range. I believe that the IOC already calls it Chiriqui Yellowthroat.
The house at the marsh.
Rio Negro: I didn’t see no river, but I did see a bunch of birds! Tee-shirts with this statement should be sold, the profits going to conservation efforts around San Vito. We went there to look for the Lance-tailed Manakin. We heard it, couldn’t frustratingly see it, but did run into some nice mixed flocks as well as montane migrant Black-thighed Grosbeaks. A really cool site with a wide, easy trail, I would love to bird there a lot more. Getting there isn’t so straightforward but is possible.
-From San Vito, go to Sabalito, take a left at the gas station.
-Follow this road to Union, and from the main fork, go about 4.5 kilometers.
-At a ranch-type house, take an immediate right just after this, also immediately driving past some small wooden houses.
-Follow this main, fairly rough road back until you reach the forest. Park there, don’t block in any farming equipment, you will see the trail at that point.
Crested Oropendola: They are around and can show up at the marsh or just driving along but the surefire way to check this common Panama and South American bird for your Costa Rica list is by visiting their nesting/roosting tree. This is on the first road on the right after the Las Cruces station, maybe 200 meters from the main road. Visit in the early morning or late afternoon to ensure success.
I guess that’s it for now. It’s a great, easy area for birding, have fun!